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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
'Gender gap' is biggest in Egypt
Arab women in Luxor, Egypt
Egypt scored badly on equality in all respects, the WEF said
Women in Egypt are the furthest behind men in terms of economic equality, while no country has closed the "gender gap" entirely, a new survey has found.

Sweden has the smallest difference between the sexes, followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The report singled out the US for particular criticism, saying it "lags behind many Western European nations".

It was a "disturbing fact" that women still trailed men, the WEF said.

'Decision making'

The WEF ranked nations on five criteria, including equal pay and access to jobs.

49: Venezuela
50: Greece
51: Brazil
52: Mexico
53: India
54: South Korea
55: Jordan
56: Pakistan
57: Turkey
58: Egypt
[Source: World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index]

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Other factors were representation of women in decision-making structures, equal access to education and access to reproductive healthcare.

The WEF survey covered all 30 industrialised countries in the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), plus 28 emerging market countries.

Several of the most populous nations in the world languish at the lower end of the table. India, Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt are all in the bottom 10.

"Their rankings reflect large disparities between men and women of all five areas of the index," the WEF said in its report, with the only bright spot being India's high score for political empowerment of women.

Latin America has its share of poor performers, with Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico all in the worst 10.

"The problem here appears to be not in the lack of opportunity once women have entered the workforce, but rather in giving them access to the educational training and basic rights, such as healthcare and political empowerment, that will enable them to join the workforce," the WEF said.

US 'ranks poorly'

The US, the world's largest economy, came 17th in the WEF's equality table.

It "ranks poorly on the specific dimensions of economic opportunity and health and well-being, compromised by meagre maternity leave, the lack of maternity leave benefits and limited government-provided childcare," the WEF said.

1: Sweden
2: Norway
3: Iceland
4: Denmark
5: Finland
6: New Zealand
7: Canada
8: United Kingdom
9: Germany
10: Australia
[Source: World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index]

In Europe, non-EU Switzerland scored relatively badly at number 34. It got a good rating on health and political empowerment, but fared less well on equal pay and women in the workforce.

Italy and Greece have the worst rankings in the EU, at 45 and 50 respectively, mainly because of women's lack of decision-making power and poor career prospects.

In Asia, China was the highest-rated country at number 33 - scoring well on economic participation, but badly on education and political empowerment. Japan is a few places behind at 38.

Topping the WEF tables were Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, which provide a "workable model" for the rest of the world, the WEF said.

"These societies seem to have understood the economic incentive behind empowering women," said WEF chief economist Augusto Lopez-Claros.

"Countries that do not fully capitalise on one-half of their human resources are clearly undermining their competitive potential."

Several other European Union countries do well in the survey, with the UK and Germany rated eighth and ninth respectively, while the three Baltic republics - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia - come in at 11, 12 and 15.

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